News and Views

Bishop upholds UM Discipline

Posted by Erik Alsgaard on

By Erik Alsgaard

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling issued a ruling of law during the BWC’s clergy session Wednesday night, stating that two individuals the Board of Ordained Ministry had approved were not eligible for ordination and commissioning because they are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

The Rev. Mark Gorman asked for the bishop’s ruling after discussion about the Board’s report which contained two names of individuals the Board had approved but which, he said, did not meet the criteria set by the church’s Judicial Council for “full examination” of a candidate.

“The matter that was causing us to not be able to move forward was the concern that the Board had not done a full inquiry, as some believe the Book of Discipline requires, and “The matter that was causing us to not be able to move forward was the concern that the Board had not done a full inquiry, as some believe the Book of Discipline requires, and some say that Judicial Council says is required,” the bishop said. “Typically, I have 30 days to rule, but I can’t wait 30 days here tonight.”

The bishop noted that members of the Board met with all 29 eligible candidates during the dinner hour Wednesday night, during a recess in the clergy session, and asked each for full disclosure. The Rev. Tony Hunt, chair of the Board, said that no persons came forward with additional information that the Board did not have already. Two individuals, he noted, had previously stated, in writing, that they were married to a person of the same gender.

The Board of Ordained Ministry, under its new policy adopted last October and disclosed this past April, had decided not to ask questions of candidates around sexuality other than if they were faithful in marriage or celibate in singleness. It was that policy that was initially called into question during the clergy session.

The Rev. John Rudisill questioned Hunt, asking whether the Board acted in harmony with Judicial Council decision 1344. “Was the BOOM faithful to that decision,” he asked. “Did BOOM ask candidates if they were practicing homosexuals?”

“No,” replied Hunt. “We asked if they were faithful or celibate.”

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, presiding at the clergy session, ruled in the afternoon session that the part of the Board’s report dealing with ordination, consecration and commissioning of people to the clergy session was “out of order” because it failed to ask these mandated questions.

Hunt said that no candidate was asked any additional questions related to sexuality or practice during their earlier examinations. He added that the “full examination” consisted of psychological reports, credit checks, effectiveness in ministry reports, and recommendations from numerous persons. “It includes multiple facets of a person’s life,” he said.

The bishop issued her ruling of law Wednesday night, she said, based on Judicial Council decision 1341, the current language of the Book of Discipline, and the rules of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

In a statement, Tara “T.C.” Morrow, a candidate for Deacon’s orders and full membership who is married to another woman, said that she was not going to give up her quest.

"I am convicted now as ever that God is calling me to continue to put myself forward as a candidate,” she said. “I pray above all else for grace and fortitude to be faithful as a disciple of my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Morrow is a member of Foundry UMC in Washington, and that church issued a statement Wednesday night in full support of Morrow. “We affirm that T.C. is called by our Creator into ordained ministry,” the church statement read in part. “We firmly stand by her as she continues to faithfully respond and serve.”

Bishop Easterling issued a statement Thursday morning, in which she outlined some of her thought processes in making her ruling. In it, she states that there are no winners in a situation like this.

"I believe the United Methodist Book of Discipline is wrong when it states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," the bishop wrote. "I believe that all persons are of sacred worth, and all persons who genuinely love another in a healthy, respectful showing of mutual care and affection are living out who God has created them to be. I do not believe persons choose to love same-gender partners; rather, I believe God has created them with the gift of love, just as God has created persons who love those of the opposite sex with the gift of love. I pray that in 2019, we move away from the restrictive language in our Book of Discipline, and allow for all to really find a full and complete home within the United Methodist Church.

"I also believe," the statement continued, "that the Book of Discipline, written by human beings and therefore fallible and subject to the error of human intellect and understanding, has at times legislated discrimination, bias, and inequality. ... And yet, it is the book upon which we order our work together, and live in covenant with one another. I have not and do not take it lightly. It has guided my work as an episcopal servant, and enabled me to respond to many issues as the spiritual leader of this conference. In my opinion, when we pick and choose how and when we will uphold it, we begin the slippery slope towards chaos. While disobedience on the conference level may allow for some persons to seek the outcome they desire, it does not provide concrete systemic change. That only occurs on the General Church level."

Bishop Easterling added that there is an opportunity, just nine months, away, where General Conference could possibly change the Book of Discipline and make it more inclusive. "I will not upend that process to impose what I believe the right and just outcome to be," she wrote.

The bishop concluded her statement by writing, "In good conscience and against what I believe to be an error in our Book of Discipline, I will not violate its current law. I reserve the right to reach a different conclusion if the circumstances change in the future. To those who feel harmed and violated by my decision, I offer my deep and sincere apologies, and hope you can at least understand my rationale. Again, there are no winners here."


During plenary session on Thursday afternoon, May 31, eight newly elected Deacons and Elders in full connection issued a statement in support of their two colleagues who were not brought forward for election. The statement was read on the floor of the plenary session by the Rev. Beth Hutton.

"This is a difficult moment for us in our journey of ministry. We are honored and privileged, Bishop, to be elected as Deacon and Elders in full connection in the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference. We have all worked hard to get to this place. Yet we are deeply grieved by the exclusion of our colleagues and siblings in Christ, who are LGBTQ+.

"We have together studied, practiced, and served because we each have a call on our lives from a creative, loving, merciful and living God.
We follow the way of Christ – and are aware that Jesus sought out and invited service and commitment from those who were rejected by authorities. At the same time, we strive to model the loving community of a Triune God, in particular as we love, relate to, and belong to one another in this connection we call The United Methodist Church.
Today, while some of us will be joining this connection because of our privilege, our colleagues and friends will be excluded. They also have calls on their lives. Vocation is a gift from God and does not designate winners or losers. They have borne fruit for the kingdom with remarkable gifts for ministry. They were recommended to this body to be commissioned and/or ordained by the Board of Ordained Ministry just as we were. They have studied, practiced and served in the ways we have served; they have been asked the same questions, and they were all found able and fit for ministry.

"We echo our sister in Christ, Kara Scroggins, who last year spoke these words from the floor after similar, disheartening discussions in the clergy session:
'We fail to welcome the gifts and celebrate the full humanity of God’s children who are LGBTQ+. Despite all that there is to celebrate, our denomination–this very annual conference–continues to practice discrimination and to cause harm to people; the church harms people who selflessly volunteer their lives in service to it.'

"Our general rules are clear, we are to do no harm. We eight clergy are committed to standing with those who have been rejected with our presence and our vote, mindful that the stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone. At the urging of the Holy Spirit, we stand for inclusion and for the end to exclusion, seeking a time when The United Methodist Church embraces the fullness of every person’s gifts."

Rev. Giovanni Arroyo, Rev. Beth Hutton, Rev. Elizabeth LeMaster, Rev. James McSavaney, Rev. Laura Norvell, Rev. Katie Saari, Rev. Dawn Stewart, Rev. Leo Yates